…the Readers Start Running.
Birthright by RJ Palmer is a paranormal mystery and suspense novel. The problem? The blurb slams the reader with more than the allotted amount of mysterious; I quite literally had no idea what was going on in the book’s pitch.
For this pitch, I’d say it’s a case of not actually knowing what the story is about, and that’s surprisingly common ailment among authors. It’s hard for writers to condense their darling into just a few, bare sentences. When you are so close to your story, it isn’t easy to step back and talk about the main thrust of the narrative. So, let’s try to parse the blurb down into a tantalizing pitch.
The original pitch:
TheOtherCanary’s Punctuation Nitpick: Before I start in on the content, I’ve got to talk about the ellipsis. Of all forms of punctuation, this one gets the most abuse. Those three little periods are meant to indicate one of two things:
- A pause in speech (in which case, it should be found inside quotation marks or brackets) or
- An intentional omission of words (such as a character thinking, If I don’t finish this review tonight, my editor is gonna…).
It should not, however, be used willy-nilly to imply as sense of ominousness; that’s a lazy man’s way out.
If you want to create the feeling, write it, don’t ellipsis it.
Back to the blurb! Let’s take each section apart and see what is happening
One beleaguered man…
1. A guy’s in Colorado, where it is winter and cold.
2. Strange shit is happening.
3. Something may or may not have a tumor.
4. Someone is trying to kill him.
One woman living in no man’s land…
1. Guy’s widow (but how did he die?) going back to Colorado (why?)
2. Her kids are not cooperating.
An inevitable chance encounter…
1. …how is it inevitable if he’s dead?
Without knowing anything else about the book, my first thought upon reading this pitch is that it will be a split narrative—some pieces told from the point of Raine and some from Sierra. But just because that’s the way the story is told does not mean it’s the way the blurb should be told. For my edit of the blurb, I’m going to narrow the focus and put the whole pitch in one person’s POV.
Disclaimer: In order to do so, I’m going to flat out make things up as far as distinct details go. The author can take and sub in the correct information.
What the author did right that carried over:
1. A sense of time
Part of what makes a character inherently interesting is an intriguing past. Having a sense of what might have set them on this path of discovery/disaster/whathaveyou makes for an interesting narrative.
But what has changed now is that the timeline has been streamlined—ie, the bits about the husband (maybe) going crazy are clearly shown in the past tense. That is what shapes our wife character, what has driven her to make the choices that will open the novel and start the mystery.
2. A sense of trouble
Shit’s gonna go down in this book and it’s gonna go down fast. That was clear in the original blurb, and it’s something that is essential to the feel of the whole set-up.
But instead of using ellipses, the current blurb employs repetition and—as anyone who has seen Jaws and sat through the ba-dum-ba-dum soundtrack knows—repetition is one of the best ways to build suspense. Repetition in fragments (Survived…survived…) adds the drama in the beginning, and short clipped sentences in the end do the same.
What else could I have done?
Another approach could have been to tell the story from Raine’s POV, but I feel as though it would have given far too much away. From the pitch, it feels like this is the sort of story where nothing is straightforward, nothing is given up for free. The past will be unraveled slowly in the narrative, so any possible truths about the characters should be played close to the chest. Just give the reader the barest taste of the deeper mystery, and they will be cracking open the cover to read the first few pages to see what answers they might glean.
And if you’ve got ‘em hooked that far, your pitch has done its job.
Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at firstname.lastname@example.org.